The first, and arguably the most important, step in achieving something is to set a goal.
I do it all the time in business and life then build plans to help me get to where I want to go. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t, but I have learned that due to my ADD if I don’t have a goal and a plan, then I’m not going to get anything accomplished. I’ll just look around at stuff and be busy as all get out then look around again and realize I’ve gone nowhere. It’s like going to the grocery store without a list to get milk and cereal. I’ll come back with four or five items but no milk.
The longest memory is a short pencil. I live that.
Some of the goals I set are beyond what I really think I can do, but I’ve found that helps me do more than I actually thought I could. Especially when dealing with physical things like weights or running. When I set those stretch goals I also have secondary ones that I plan to hit “on the way.” That way I build in successes so I feel good and keep working. That’s worked really well the past two years as I try to run a mile in under five minutes.
Only about ten people a year in my age group, or the one above or below for that matter, do that in any given year. The air is rare up there. Those guys are fast, fast, fast and I’d like to be up there with them. Of course I haven’t run a sub-5 mile since I was 18 but, pffft, I don’t care. It’s a stretch goal!
I’ve already hit several of my secondary goals and had some great races along the way, plus I’ve learned a great deal about training and perseverance. I’ve also had the good luck to be able to share a lot of those learning’s with other folks and hear about their successes, too. So today I want to do some more sharing and give y’all some basic pointers for accomplishing any racing goals you might have.
First: Set the goal
Write it down, tell someone about it, and talk about. Those things will help make it real to you and keep you working towards it even if you hit some setbacks.
Second: Have a plan
Things that are worthwhile don’t just happen. They take effort and you work for them. With the limited amount of time we all have, we can’t just be wasting it if we want to do something big for ourselves, and having a plan will help us be more efficient and improve the likelihood of reaching our goals. Think the plan through starting with the finishing point. If you’re goal is a PR in a Half Marathon, start with the race date and work your ways backwards understanding that you’re not going to be able to run the needed distances at the needed speeds if you don’t build up to it! Knowing where you need to be and when will help lay out what you have to do to get there. And be smart about it. Don’t just go throwing big numbers out there like running 6 days a week 10 miles a day if you’ve never made yourself do it before. If you’re a three day a week runner, stick to three days. Play to your habits and strengths if you can. If you do have to change something do it in small steps. It’s really easy to get discouraged so it’s important not to plan for discouragement. Plan for success and go after it in little, manageable steps.
Third: Vary the plan
We all know shit happens. Sometimes it’s self-inflicted; sometimes it’s not but you know it’s going to happen, so be ready to go with the flow. Missing a workout isn’t going to be the end if you gave yourself the leeway when putting together your plan. The other key point here is the “variety” in the “vary.” Regardless of what you’re training to do, just going out and running several times a week is not going to get you very far. When I began my training I first looked at what the world class “elites” do. No, I’m not going to be one of them, but they obviously know what they’re doing so I imitate them! Which brings up a pet peeve of mine: training plans where you don’t ever run the distance you’re going to race. Please. To me that’s just a plan to help you FINISH a distance, not race it. Now, obviously, finishing is the goal for many people. That was my goal when I ran my one and only Marathon. I did pretty well even though I hit the wall hard at 23 miles, but I’d never run more than 18 leading up to that so what the hell else should I have expected? Elite marathoners do 30 mile runs in their training from time to time. Those of us who want to really race a marathon should think about doing that, too.
But back to the “variety.”
A good training plan addresses lots of different systems and muscles in your body to help you get the most you can get out of yourself. Marathoners do speed work, and sprinters do long slow runs. Just in varying quantities and speeds. Here are the pieces I suggest everyone needs to do when training for any distance. There are a gazillion variations on these workouts as well as cross-training opportunities that make a difference but these are the ones that will give you the most bang for your buck. Read that: give you the most benefit in the shortest amount of time.
Sprint Work: Short, 40 to 80 meter, full-out-hard-as-you-can sprints with about 4 to 5 minutes rest between each rep. Those build leg muscle and help you learn to move your feet faster and faster.
Speed Work: Distances from 200 meters up to a mile. Intervals, where you run at a fast pace then rest and repeat, work the best here. One of the most used workouts anywhere is a “10 x” where you run ¼ the distance you’re going to race at your goal race pace, then rest for about a minute or jog for about a minute and a half then hit the rep again for a total of 10 times.
Stamina Work: Distances ranging from about 1/3 to the full distance of your goal race. The iterations that exist here are also numerous but think Tempo Run since that’s the most used workout. These runs are done just a little slower than race pace and usually for a distance a little shorter than your goal race. These are the workouts the Kenyans (a generality, but there’s some merit there) focus on most. Supposedly it’s almost all of their training and that makes sense since this most closely resembles your goal race. If you’re training for a 10K then 2 to 5 mile Tempo Runs will be what you’re doing.
Endurance: Distances as long, or longer, than your goal race. These are really important just so your body is prepared to do what it needs to do for a given period of time and distance. It’s going to be very difficult to race for an hour if you never run that long in practice.
The balance and focus of these segments depend entirely on your goal race and secondarily on your physical capabilities. My goal race of the mile means my time is spent on Speed, Stamina, Sprint and Endurance in that order. If you’re training for a Marathon then it’s going to be more Endurance, Stamina, Speed and Sprint. But all of the pieces should be there.
Plus one more: Easy Days.
One of the best things you can do for your body is have a day where you run, but it is short and very easy. This type of run gets the fluids flowing through you to speed up healing, elevates your heartbeat and breathing so there’s a little cardiovascular benefit to it, but it doesn’t stress your muscles and joints at all. Very, very beneficial.
That variety of training will not only improve you physically faster than doing just one type of running, it makes running a whole lot more interesting and fun! And those two things, interesting and fun, bring me to the last word on a training plan.
You're the designer, so make the plan fit YOU!
One size does not fit all in the running world and while a plan by Higdon might be a good one, it might not be good for you individually. The same goes for any plan out there. I've got books and articles you could read on the subject, but I realize not everyone is as geeked about running as I am. Just think of yourself and your goals when you lay out a plan to reach them. Play to your strengths and deal with your weaknesses in ways that you CAN and WILL deal with them. If you hate rigid things, then it doesn't make much sense to have a 7 day a week plan complete with the time of day you run, rest, stretch and eat does it? No. Just make a list of three or four runs you're going to do that week.
Interesting and Fun.
If you keep those things in your running, you will do it more and do it better.